My latest: On Morocco’s “New” Cabinet

The following is an excerpt for my latest piece on Jadaliyya, contextualizing the recent cabinet changes in Morocco and the political implications behind it:

The fluidity through which parties float from the coalition to the opposition and from the opposition to the coalition reveals more than just the pursuit of political interests (i.e., Istiqlal wanting to disassociate itself from the price hikes on food and fuel). This fluid movement practically renders the parliamentary election process in Morocco futile. Even if the parliamentary elections were intended to feed a narrative of a liberalizing political system, the shifting movements of political parties reverses any changes brought about by an electoral process. Moreover, the inability of parties to tow a consistent political line places more reliance on the monarchy as an institution, especially when it constantly intervenes in inter-party disputes at the expense of policy-making. The palace (the king and his shadow cabinet) is increasingly viewed as a stable mediating actor, rather than its true nature as an institution that operates with unchecked powers and impunity. It is through this strategy of capitalizing from the partisan squabbles among political parties that the monarchy has anchored itself in Morocco’s political landscape as a “uniting” and seemingly “necessary” actor.

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The latest in un-ironic Moroccan politics: RNI to join coalition?

Mezouar and Benkirane get giggly. Image via Lakome.

The awesome Lakome (which is a wonderful source of news and commentary on Moroccan politics) is reporting that the royalist National Rally of Independents (RNI) is in talks to join Benkirane’s Party of Justice and Development (PJD) in the ruling coalition government. Of course, the speculation is contingent upon the king’s final approval. This comes a few weeks after drama unfolded between Hamid Chabat (Istiqlal Party leader) and Benkirane over who would kiss the king’s ass more, causing the king to inconveniently intervene via telephone while on vacation in his Betz palace in France. I wrote about this and how that whole “political crisis” was empty of politics and displayed more of the power dynamics than anything else.

So the possibility that RNI is making moves to join the coalition is hilarious, well-timed (for Mezouar and his gang at least), and not surprising. Hilarious because it was only a few months ago that Mezouar was bashing Benkirane and the PJD over the “slow pace” of reforms. Well-timed because the RNI has been largely irrelevant and they’ve managed to capitalize on what is perceived as a political crisis to squeeze themselves back in the picture just in time for people to remember they exist as a party for the next elections. Not surprising because this is the game of Moroccan politics.

Poor Aziz Akhennouch though. He ended up resigning from his party for no reason! But I’m sure that this won’t hurt things that much for him. Hell, my money’s on him for being chosen in the next round of royal advising appointments.

Blogger’s note: I forgot to mention how in my first assignment as a freelance writer, when I went to cover the opening of the Morocco Mall, the first person I made eye contact with at the “VIP ceremony” during Jennifer Lopez’s performance was a drunk and stumbling Mezouar. His bodyguards were escorting him out. I regret not capturing that moment on video. And he was still Minister of Finance then too. He had to have been a lightweight since he left so early.

Article 7’s “democratic principles” and the National Rally of Independents (RNI)

A screenshot of RNI’s website, which is under construction. Visit here:

To begin analyzing the state of a specific political party in Morocco, one should begin by considering the role of political parties vis-a-vis the monarchy. How significant is the role of a political party in a country where a hereditary monarchy rules unchecked, where the king sits as the supreme religious authority in addition to being the country’s senior business partner in the private sector, along with full control of the military? Not very significant. However, Morocco’s Western allies like to point to institutions like the constitution and parliament as indicators of the elusive “Moroccan Exception,” which is often cited as an explanation as to why Morocco didn’t experience the wave of popular uprisings on the scale that its neighbors have.

If we refer to the 2011 Constitution, article 7 begins to outline the role of political parties. The following is an excerpt. Note that this is not a legal translation, but my own from the French version:

Political parties express the will of voters and exercise their power on the basis of pluralism and alternation by democratic means through the framework of constitutional institutions. They can not be created with the goal to undermine the religion of Islam, the monarchy, constitutional principles, democratic foundations, national unity, or the territorial integrity of the Kingdom. The organization and functions of political parties must conform to democratic principles.

Lalla Nezha and Ahmed Osman attending the anniversary of the Royal Armed Forces in Washington DC. A very cheerful Abdeslam Bouziane as well. 14 May 1968. Image from Colonel Bouziane.

All that needs to be known about “democratic principles” in this context is that they are defined by a very undemocratic institution: the monarchy. Let’s consider the “democratic principles” of the National Rally of Independents. It was founded by then prime minister, Ahmed Osman, in 1978, and he was its leader until 2007. Osman is also married to King Mohammad VI’s aunt, Lalla Nezha. So, basically, someone who married into the royal family creates a political party while he’s prime minister and leads it for 29 years.

Fastforward a few years after 2007 and some of the most notorious figures in Moroccan politics have called the RNI their party:

Moncef Belkhayat – Former minister of youth and sports. He was also the center of the A8gate scandal last year. Before he was appointed minister, however, he was quick to jump ship from his former party, Istiqlal. As far as I know, he’s still a member of RNI. Not sure what his exact role is besides being the most active RNI-member on Twitter.

Aziz Akhennouch – Current minister of agriculture and fisheries. Akhennouch is the only minister in the current cabinet who kept his position through the new government after parliamentary elections in November. Literally, the day before the cabinet announcements were made public, Akhennouch announced that he has resigned from the RNI, making him the only minister with no official ties to a political party.

Yassir Zenagui – Former minister of tourism and current royal adviser. Zenagui was quickly upgraded to a position with no legal limits with less than 3 years of ministerial experience. Apparently, when he was appointed minister, he had not officially joined any political party, so the RNI it was! Proved to be a good decision for him.

Saleheddine Mezouar – Former minister of finance and current president of the RNI. He managed to pocket several tens of thousands of dirhams a month in bonuses during his stint as minister. Today, he mostly wanders from network to network decrying the PJD and attempting to be the face of the opposition.

The role of the RNI in the opposition is minimal at best. They mostly stand in the shadows of the self-proclaimed “leftist” Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), which has done far more to rally constituents and supporters (they recently held a rally in Casablanca on 27 May 2012, which they claim saw numbers reaching 50,000). The number of RNI votes has slowly declined over the years and its most prominent members continue to dwindle, or find themselves engulfed in political scandals. The fact that the RNI hasn’t dissolved as a party and have its remaining members join the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), a party established by royal insider and current royal adviser, Fouad Ali El Himma, is a bit of a surprise. I’m sure they’d have a great time bashing Benkirane and his bearded supporters, as they sip some gin and talk about how “modern” and “Western” they are.

Oh no, but wait, that would mean that their involvement in politics has a strategic purpose aside from sheer opportunism and using their position to advance their personal business ventures. Oops, forgot about that one.

Meanwhile, check out this gem of a video with all 4 of the figures I mentioned above acting like a bunch of frat bros after a football match.